A couple weeks ago I wrote that the Orioles and Nationals were all but dead in their hunt for a post-season birth, but both patients have successfully de-fibrilated and are sitting up on the operating table, albeit just barely.
Let’s concede the AL East to Boston and we find the O’s only two back in the loss column for a wild-card spot before tonight’s game against the Red Sox. The problem here is the schedule, as the O’s play eight of their remaining 11 games against plus .500 teams Boston and Tampa Bay. It’s good to play who you want to catch, but stacked against them and the clear favorite for one of the wild cards is the Cleveland Indians. The tribe is only 1/2 game out and plays 11 of their last 12 against sub .500 competition from the AL Central. Kansas City and New York are both 3 1/2 out and are done.
In the nations capital, the Nats are the only team left in contention, competing with the trifecta from the NL Central. As hot as the Nats are, they are still 4 1/2 back of Cincinnati for the final wild-card and the Reds are closer to winning their division than falling out of contention. Only a huge collapse by Cincy puts the Nats and their too little too late run into the dance.
Bob Nightengale wrote a very interesting piece in USA Today about declining MLB attendance and specifically numbers for some of the competing clubs. Of significant concern were the Indians and how a club in the thick of the chase could draw so poorly. In the past couple of weeks, there were two crowds of less than 10,000 in Cleveland which is alarming. Lack of fan support in Tampa has always saddened me a bit when you see how good that team is year after year and how poorly they draw. The issue is more complex than wins and losses, as some of the teams drawing poorly in comparison to last year, have winning records. Most notably are the Boston Red Sox who are down over 2,700 fans per game.
Gate problems in Cleveland are being explained away due to the poor economy in Ohio, but that’s not it. Detroit is bankrupt but they are up 305 fans per game. So if not wins and losses, and not the economy, what gives? My theory is that fans allocate their entertainment dollars to be entertained. And the old axiom of “defense wins championships but offense puts people in the seats,” holds true and this is what’s happening. Quick exercise: of the following teams in contention, Oakland, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay, name a perennial slugger on the roster. You can’t! Folks want to see offense, they want power hitters, they want homers, and of course they want a winner. That’s why the numbers are still up in economically deprived Detroit. They want Miguel Cabrerra because watching him hit is entertaining. The numbers are down for the Red Sox and Yankees, because the classic non-steroid fueled power hitters are gone (with apologies to David Ortiz).
So do I have this right? What do you think are the reasons for declining attendance across the league?